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Charles Weed
State Representative
District 3

 

September 12, 2010

Representative Charles "Chuck" Weed represents Cheshire District 3 (Keene) in the NH House of Representatives.

Representative Weed is a member of the House Committee on Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services.

 

Why Reform Fails


We are trapped in a system unable to go beyond a very narrow reformist approach to social change. This has happened because of the opportunism of the powerful, the confusion and complacency of the people and the media, and because our constitution has enabled the development of plutocracy at the expense of democracy. 

As a prime example, we can focus on problems in education, articulated a couple of decades ago and addressed by the attempted reform of education beginning with "No Child Left Behind" under the Bush administration. To improve schools we need them to test students and be held accountable for standardized learning goals, and if we do that, US students will become competitive with future international economic elites.  This will increase our economic competitiveness and also bring racial equality to those social groups who have been left behind in the US.

Allegedly, problems in schools also relate to labor unions, which bargained for teacher evaluation systems based on evidence and peer evaluation. This dynamic has supposedly led to abuse of tenure and laborious procedures requiring due process for firing, preventing the placement of good teachers in our classrooms. Unions have also whittled away at merit pay that should be determined by principals and other administrators. 

The reforms - high stakes testing, charter or privatized schools without unions. 

With Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan's visit to New Hampshire last week, we can see that this narrow-focused, top down reform is alive and well in the Obama  administration, even though  during the presidential campaign, Obama was critical of Bush's "no child left behind". Teachers - tomorrow - can look forward to management takeover of evaluation systems largely informed by student results on standardized tests. In other words if students don't improve test performance it's the fault of incompetent teachers.


Teaching children is very complicated.  John Dewey, a great educator,  used to suggest that people who want to see more rapid results in student learning, should go out and "time a dandelion". What he was suggesting was that change is occurring even if you can't see it. He may also have been aware that the period of time students are in the classroom may be nowhere near as important as all the rest of the hours that students are out of school. Distractions today are much greater than in Dewey's day. The contemporary effects of television, of advertising, of shoot-em- up games, of too many living in substandard housing with poor health, and chronic hunger, or high joblessness and parents who don't have the energy to get involved with homework, or are insecure about their own skills in being able to help - may all be better explanations of poor performance. 

For these problems, effective teaching to the test will not help. It doesn't make any difference how good the teacher is. But based on the untested assumptions that testing is the cure, and that "good" teachers can overcome the social barriers and distractions  outside the classroom, the establishment continues its narrowly focused reform. To effectively address the problem, broad based social reform beyond the narrow approaches from the top down are called for. 

We need to acknowledge the interconnectedness of formal education with changes in primetime educational TV programming - not prioritizing profit resulting  from consumerism;  truth squading advertisements for both candidates and consumer goods; public financing of elections;  guaranteed jobs; universally accessible/affordable healthcare; and to improve education - recognizing teaching as a profession and paid and honored as such. Until we do, reform unconnected to real problems will increase tensions and maintain a failing status quo.
 
Instead of directly looking at the fundamental problems of society, we have come to accept that minor reforms of technique, and reward determined by administrators, can effectively address problems that are clearly part of our larger failing environment and culture. 

Education reform is just one example. My bet is that as long as we do not demonstrate a willingness to look at the fundamental value problems of our society and work on massive overhauls instead of small reforms, we will continue to ignore real evidence, and thus continue to be the preeminent power in causing global climate change, to worsen the divisions between the haves and have-nots, to increase polarization and inequality, and to focus more on blame than resolution.

 


Charles F. Weed, Representative Cheshire 3
Keene, New Hampshire 


Telephone:  603-271-3125
Email: cweed@keene.edu

 

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